The Grim Reaper?

June 18, 2019

The U.S. Senate consists of 100 members – 2 elected from each state — independent of population.  Under the Constitution, our elected Vice President serves as the President of the Senate, and presides over the Senate’s daily proceedings, and only the Vice President has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Over the past 2 decades, I’ve become more and more befuddled, baffled and bewildered by the apparently bad behaviors of some of those elected to represent us in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, it seems that one of the 2 Senators elected from Kentucky – Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – has acquired extraordinary power over the operation and functionality of this key part of the legislative branch of our federal government!

While it is perfectly clear that McConnell has usurped extraordinary power over the functionality of the Senate, he could have only acquired this power from the spineless reptiles who worship at his feet.

How can it be possible that one person – elected from the great state of Kentucky – has the arbitrary and singular power to schedule — or not schedule – votes on bills by the Senate?

How can it be possible that one person – in this case, the Senate Majority Leader – has obtained the power to fully obstruct a government of the people, by the people and for the people?

The arbitrary and unilateral power of the Senate Majority Leader is not derived from the Constitution, from any law, or from formal rules of the Senate.

Instead, it is entirely based on informal, colloquial and unwritten rules established over time by a collection of precedents, beginning with an informal ruling by then-Vice President John Garner in 1937 which created a “right of preferential recognition”.

Vice President Garner – serving in his Constitutional role as Senate President – may have been trying to create order within a body of highly assertive and opinionated elected officials from very diverse geographic and economic backgrounds.

Regardless of intent or motivation, the Garner precedent continues to serve as the foundation upon which Majority Leader power is based in the Senate today.

Today, there is one person  — elected by some voters in Kentucky — who has the power to obstruct a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Very recently, Mitch McConnell proclaimed that no issues which he objects to would be voted on in the Senate.  He said, “So think of me as the Grim Reaper” — the guy who is going to make sure that we fully support the agenda of our current President.

Is this what the American people really want?

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On Wednesday, May 29, 2019 Robert Mueller broke 2 years of silence to speak to the American public about the Special Counsel Report which bears his name.

Mueller advised Americans to read his report if we want to understand what really happened in 2016. “We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” he said.

The pressure is on. We need to read the Mueller Report.

The Mueller Report is huge, and it is written in ‘legalese’ – well beyond the interests and/or abilities of most American adults. You want footnotes? Volume I of the Mueller Report includes about 199 pages of text, illuminated by 1,283 footnotes.  Volume II adds another 182 pages of content with almost 1,100 footnotes.  That is almost 2,400 footnotes!  Yikes!

According to the national not-for-profit organization Reading is Fundamental, 93 Million American adults read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society.

I have to guess that the majority of these 93 Million American adults lack the motivation — and the skills — needed to read, comprehend and analyze the contents of the Mueller Report.

I’m retired and I have plenty of discretionary time.  I have read significant portions of the Mueller Report.  It is not an easy task.

Yet, I discovered that Volume I provides a powerful and comprehensive look at the events and evidence related to foreign election interference.

Volume II documents a number of actions directly or indirectly initiated by Donald Trump intended to impede or obstruct the FBI investigation into foreign election interference, and further actions intended to obstruct the Special Counsel investigation.

I predict that the Mueller Report will become a significant historical document for U.S. history scholars.

As it stands, it is just too academic and complex to become a widely-read, popularly acclaimed explanation of current events for most American adults.

Thankfully, all is not lost!

In its May 29, 2019 issue, The Atlantic published a synopsis penned by David Frum which helps bridge the gap between legalese and the typical American adult’s willingness and ability to read, comprehend and understand the conclusions reached by Mueller and his team.

I encourage you to make the time to read Frum’s article.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/mueller/590467/?fbclid=IwAR0ACFoJqo0UmmdOg0YXQt3ajGqeZ4XC2hEsIPRalVb6Ycoi8-P6hJbO9-0

Mueller Report

May 29, 2019

Several of my friends have wondered:  What part of “… this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” supports the “No Collusion, No Obstruction” response from the Trump White House.

My theory is based on a variety of academic studies over the past 2 decades which have determined that an ‘average American adult’ reads at (or about) the eighth grade level.

The reading skills of American adults are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on a sample of 160,000 people from two dozen developed nations.

The Mueller Report is an academic treatise written at a level which clearly exceeds the abilities of most American adults to engage; read; analyze; and conclude.

The ability to read fluently, critically and for understanding— to be able to learn from text— may be the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens’ health, well-being, and social and economic advancement.

Critical reading skills are the gateway to lifelong learning, education, and training.

The internet and social networking currently operate through the written word, thus reading literacy provides access to an infinite and readily accessible library of the world’s knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate with friends, family, and employers.

The digital revolution provided access to information which is the foundation for an informed society — except for those adults who continue to struggle to read and/or comprehend.

We have a crisis in America.  The Mueller Report is written at a level which exceeds the skills of the majority of Americans — including many of those currently serving in Congress — to understand, analyze and arrive at critically informed conclusions.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that adults with a high school degree (or less) represent the majority (37%) of U.S. adults who report not reading books in any format in the past year.

I have to wonder – and I hope you will join me —  How many of these 37% of adults who don’t read books (and perhaps don’t read critically?) are members of the Trump Base?

 

 

 

 

 

We Have a Winner!

May 24, 2019

Competition for the coveted “Horse’s Patootie” award this week was fierce, almost resulting in a hung jury.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the freshman congressional class of 2019, narrowly emerged as this week’s winner.

Following Senate passage (85 to 8) of a long-awaited $19+ billion disaster aid bill, Mr. Roy refused to grant his accord for the House to pass a unanimous consent resolution to move the bill to POTUS for his signature into law. (President Trump had already agreed to approve the bill as passed in the Senate.)

Although new to Congress, Roy served for several years as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), including that period in 2013 when Cruz led a campaign which led to a 16-day government shutdown as a symbolic means to force repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Most ironic, perhaps: Even Cruz voted in favor of this 2019 disaster aid bill citing its importance to Texas, as about 20% of the $19 Billion in aid is destined to parts of Texas prone to hurricane damage.

It has been reported that Mr. Roy will be staying in D.C. over the Memorial Day holiday to avoid a “Tar & Feathers” party promised by his Texas constituents.

President Trump threw a temper tantrum today in the White House Rose Garden, forever preserved in the digital media universe.

Through his actions and words today, President Trump has provided clear and irrefutable evidence that he is unable to separate questions about his personal character from the primary duty of his current and sworn role to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” which I translate as an obligation to provide competent and impartial leadership for the entire population of the United States.

His public pronouncement that, “I don’t do cover ups” is clearly false.

Following that statement, the first image that flashed into my head was recorded for public record on Air Force One (early April, 2018) when President Trump responded to a reporter’s question about the cover-up payment(s) to Stormy Daniels that, ‘I know nothing about that’ further referring any questions to his then-Attorney, Michael Cohen.

Another indelible image again involves Air Force One and the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., various Trump campaign people, and a Russian lawyer.  In early July 2017, while flying home from Germany aboard Air Force One, President Trump personally dictated a statement on behalf of Trump Jr. which said that Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” in June 2016, further stating that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

That meeting has continued to be a constant thorn.  In late July 2018, following public testimony by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to respond to some negative press reports, “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr….”

He didn’t know?  Cover up?  I think yes.

The most egregious example of Trump cover ups is his obstinate refusal to allow the public release of bank records, tax returns or any relevant financial records pertaining to his personal and business activities.  We know from public information that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization and/or entities controlled by him:  (a) Declared bankruptcy 6 times; (b) Have been shunned by most traditional banking organizations; (c) Consistently sell condominiums and other developed properties in ‘all-cash’ transactions, often to anonymous entities connected to Russia or former Soviet republics.

I applaud Speaker Pelosi for her insistence on a thorough and methodical process to follow and identify all of the facts. Indeed, no one is above the law, including the President of the United States.

I strongly encourage our elected officials to stay the course and to demand full disclosure and independent comprehensive review of Trump family and Trump Organization financial records.  The American People deserve nothing less.

I live in Clearwater, FL and my elected Congressional representative is Charlie Crist.  Here is a copy of my letter to Rep. Crist regarding the obfuscation by Steven Mnunchin:

April 25, 2019

No law requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns, but historical precedent does.

In November 1963, then-presidential candidate George Romney started this trend when he released 12 years of tax returns, a full year prior to the 1964 election.

When George’s son Mitt ran for president in 2012, he released his own tax returns.

According to PolitiFact, only 7 presidential or vice president candidates since 1976 have not released any tax returns. (Jerry Brown, Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Richard Lugar, Ralph Nader, none of whom were elected to the position they sought.)

When Donald J. Trump voluntarily announced (June 2015) his candidacy to run for the office of President of the United States, he voluntarily left a sequestered world of privacy to become a public figure.

Americans have come to rely on full transparency from Presidential candidates, including voluntary public release of federal tax returns.

Since June 2015, Trump has been asked many times to release his tax returns, and he has often replied in specious and vague generalities, frequently citing “under audit” as a primary barrier.

Fast forward to April 2019: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) sent a written request to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig seeking six years of President Donald J. Trump’s personal and business tax returns.

Chairman Neal issued a concurrent statement explaining his request:  “Congress, as a co-equal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials. The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary Federal tax system and determine how Americans – including those elected to our highest office – are complying with those laws. It is also our duty to evaluate the operation of the Internal Revenue Service in its administration and enforcement of the tax laws.

“The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately. In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities. The Committee has a duty to examine whether Congressional action may be needed to require such audits, and to oversee that they are conducted properly.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to ensure that IRS Commissioner Rettig met a final congressional deadline of April 23 for turning over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers, the second time the Trump administration missed a House deadline for the tax returns since Neal requested them on April 3.

After the deadline lapsed, Mnuchin released a letter to Neal in which he pledged to make “a final decision” on whether to provide Trump’s tax records by May 6 by which date Mnuchin expected to receive a legal opinion from the Department of Justice on the propriety of Chairman Neal’s request.

Mnuchin further stated he was concerned that the efforts by Democrats to release the president’s tax returns were ‘politically motivated’.

The powers delegated to the Chairman of Ways and Means under IRS code are clear.

Steven Mnuchin and Charles Rettig are violating the laws of our country and ought to be charged as such; arrested; and imprisoned until such time they comply with this legitimate Congressional request.

If Congress fails to act quickly and assertively to take control of this situation, then Congress is complicit in the continued efforts of the Trump administration to usurp the very essence of our Constitutional Republic.

Thank you for making time to consider my opinions on how our federal government could better serve the best interests of the people.

The Untouchables

April 23, 2019

The Untouchables television series debuted in 1959 loosely based on a memoir written by Eliot Ness, chronicling his career as a federal Treasury enforcement agent in the 1930’s.

The TV series starred Robert Stack (as Eliot Ness) as the leader of a team of Prohibition Agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury following their efforts to bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone.

The team of agents was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because of their courage, moral character, and incorruptibility; legend said they could not be bribed or intimidated by the Mob.

The Untouchables was a landmark television series that spawned numerous imitators over the decades, including S.W.A.T.;  The F.B.I.;  Crime Story;  the original Hawaii Five-O;  and countless more.

Those were the days when the American public proudly looked up to…

  • Our elected leaders in Washington;
  • Their appointed cabinet heads; and
  • The career public servants who signed on to protect our country against rascals, scoundrels and scofflaws.

Today (April 23, 2019), U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet a final congressional deadline for turning over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers, setting the stage for a possible court battle between Congress and the Trump Administration.

Last week, we witnessed William Barr — the current Attorney General of the United States – in a nationally televised press conference deliver a fully fabricated introduction to a 400+plus page summary of a Special Counsel independent investigation (“The Mueller Investigation”) into allegations of Russian government  efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

We have a sitting President who has frequently and publicly besmirched, criticized and/or called into question the abilities, intentions and loyalty of the entire U.S. intelligence community, including the FBI, CIA, Treasury Department and National Intelligence Agency,

Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan in August 2018 – apparently in retaliation to Brennan’s comments that Trump was incapable of managing the office of POTUS – is cast in complete juxtaposition to the forced security clearances for Jared and Ivanka.

Make America Great Again?

Yeah.

Let’s go back to the time when Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchables were revered by virtually all Americans, and when we were willing and able to unite against Mobsters and Criminals who threatened the very essence of our Constitutional Republic.

Paul Ryan & Tax Cuts

April 16, 2019

Dear Paul Ryan,

In 1998 – at the age of 28 – you were first elected to the House of Representatives to represent the 1st District of Wisconsin.  You were re-elected a number of times, and you served for 20 years in Congress.

After John Boehner announced his intention to resign from the House and the Speakership in 2015, you were selected by your colleagues to become Speaker of the House.

You were involved in some very positive legislative accomplishments during your 20 year tenure as a Congressman representing the 1st District of Wisconsin, and during your tenure as Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, your legacy will forever be connected to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) which was passed into law at the end of 2017.

Although the TCJA provided the Trump Administration with an accomplishment relative to their campaign platform, it is a highly flawed piece of legislation which was created on a foundation of fictitious and inaccurate assumptions.

Just 16 months following the passage of TCJA, we can clearly see the adverse impacts.

Business and corporate tax cuts have resulted in: stock buy-backs; excessive executive compensation and bonuses; acquisitions and consolidations resulting in plant closings and layoffs.  All of these have been enabled by tax cuts which have resulted in 60 major corporations paying zero federal income taxes in 2018.

Whereas in times of economic expansion, the great majority of economists advise public sector entities to reduce deficits and aim for balanced budgets, the TCJA does just the opposite.

Some of the loss of tax revenue from business and corporate entities has been replaced by increased federal tax liability on individuals (like me), the majority of the lost tax revenue has been made up through deficit spending.

The annual federal budget deficit is expected to reach $900 Billion in fiscal 2019 and to equalize in the range of $1 Trillion annually for the next decade, up from $779 Billion in 2018.

Mr. Ryan:  over the course of your service in Congress, you achieved national recognition as a conservative policy wonk and as a relentless critical observer of our federal budget. You seemed to be a relentless critic of federal deficits, winning acclaim from centrists for your detailed charts showing the dangers that fiscal shortfalls posed to America’s future.

You slipped out of Washington in January 2018 knowing that you led the American people down a dangerous and dead-end road.

In your defense, we can acknowledge that you reluctantly took on the role of Speaker knowing that it was an impossible responsibility to fulfill.  Despite this, we must hold you fully accountable for failing to disclose to your constituents – and the entire U.S. population – that the TCJA was a sham – a complete flim-flam designed to create a false reality.

Paul Ryan:  Let us hope that your family, your wife, your children – and your neighbors – are willing and able to forgive you for selling out the interests of the people of Wisconsin — as well as the people of the United States – for whatever benefits you personally gained from your treachery toward the end of your tenure in Congress when you became the champion of the fictitious Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Mr. Ryan:  Good luck to you, and God bless.

Tax Returns & The Base

March 4, 2019

It truly is fascinating to watch the Hard Core Trump Base rise up on their haunches and respond to Trump tweets, pronouncements and positions.

I thought the Trump Base was loud but modest:  maybe 20% of American adults?  Wrong.

There seems to be a solid base of around 40% of American adults who idolize the words and actions of Donald Trump.  Though the number might occasionally rise or fall by a few points, Trump’s 40 percent approval rating seems to be mostly bulletproof.

Trump’s base is loud and determined.  One of his followers summed it up succinctly:  “People who voted for Trump will NEVER stop believing in his strength, intelligence and goodness. Trump 2020!”

Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump may never understand the deeply held values of the people who see America and the rest of the world so drastically different from us.

Do the hard-core Trump folks really believe that Trump is an economic and social policy expert who alone can make America great?

Or are they just lost souls clinging to the past in a desperate hope that the inevitability of change and uncertainty can be conquered through anger, bad manners and avoidance?

Trump defied an established custom developed over the last 40 years by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, although he did say – on multiple occasions during the campaign – that his tax returns had been under a routine Internal Revenue Service audit since 2009 and that he could not release them until the audit was finished.  (N.B.  The IRS has repeatedly stated that there is no prohibition or restriction on releasing tax returns while they are under audit.)

After a while, Trump promised that he would release his tax returns once the audit was completed.

I’m no expert on IRS audits, having only been audited once myself.  My audit was completed within 90 days.

Generally, the statute of limitations for the IRS to close out tax audits on a taxpayer expires three (3) years from the due date of the return or the date on which it was filed, whichever is later.

Public evidence shows that in most cases, an IRS tax audit lasts less than one year.  In a few rare cases where substantial tax fraud or misreporting (generally, unreported income) is involved, the statute of limitations can be extended to six years.

That said – and assuming worst case situations —  the audit on Trump’s 2009 tax return would have been completed not later than October 15, 2016; 2010 by October 15, 2017; 2011 by October 15, 2018

Various public polls reflect the sentiment of a majority of Americans (70+ %) that Trump should release his tax returns.  Yes, even some of the Trump acolytes agree that releasing the tax returns is the right thing to do!

It’s the job of congressional committees to conduct oversight of the executive branch, and the Ways and Means committee is empowered to obtain anyone’s tax returns – even a sitting President – under a provision of the tax code which has existed since the 1920s.

Let’s get those Trump tax returns released ASAP, and eliminate at least one of the broken campaign promises.  As has been said, ‘sunlight is the best of disinfectants’.

I was looking forward to hearing the testimony of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee, particularly interested to learn more about some of the ‘behind the scenes’ actions and activities which took place during Cohen’s ten year stint as a lawyer for Donald Trump, and as an executive of The Trump Organization.

It is clear that Michael Cohen is guilty of multiple frauds and felonies.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges in August 2018, including several counts of tax fraud and campaign finance violations. He also pleaded guilty in November 2018 to a charge of lying to Congress from Special Counsel Mueller’s office.

Said Cohen, “I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to:  The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America.”

In December 2018, Cohen was sentenced to a term in federal prison for the eight criminal counts he pleaded guilty to in August. The judge gave him an additional two months for the special counsel charge.

Despite pending imprisonment for his acknowledged bad behavior, Cohen agreed to provide public testimony to the House Oversight Committee on February 27, 2019.

It was my expectation that – during this public hearing – committee members would politely hear testimony from Mr. Cohen, followed by a question and answer session which might provide us with a broader understanding of the issues.

Upon completion of the public hearing, I anticipated that members of the committee would meet sometime in the near future to study, discuss and debate the findings of the hearing.

At a future date, I expected that I would learn from traditional media sources about next steps:  Further investigation?  Criminal referral(s)?  Case closed?

I appreciate and covet freedom of speech, and I am cognizant of special protections afforded to Members of Congress to ensure they are not censured for statements made in their official capacity.

That said, today I witnessed two members of the House Oversight Committee go off course early in the proceedings, and they continued to cloud and obfuscate the intended purpose of the hearing almost to the very end.

The behavior and demeanor of Rep. Jim Jordan (R, OH) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R, NC) on 2/27/19 (as displayed on national television) was unprofessional; inappropriate; and absolutely unacceptable coming from elected Members of Congress.

I am a citizen and registered voter in the United States.

As such, I am entitled to all of the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States, including the expectation that elected Members of the House will (1) behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House; (2) adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof; and (3) not receive or accept compensation, favors or other benefits from any source which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from their elected position in Congress.

It is my belief that both Rep. Jordan and Rep. Meadows repeatedly violated their basic duties of comportment and professionalism during their activities today as members of the House Oversight Committee.

I do hope the House Ethics Committee will hold each of these individuals fully accountable for their unprofessional, inappropriate, and unacceptable public behavior, and I encourage others to demand accountability from Congress.